, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 339-351
Date: 26 Aug 2011

Chess & Schizophrenia: Murphy v Mr Endon, Beckett v Bion

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This paper reconvenes Samuel Beckett’s psychotherapy with Wilfred Bion during 1934–1936 during which time Beckett’s conceived and began writing this second novel, Murphy. Based on Beckett’s visits to the Bethlem & Maudsley Hospital and his observation of the male nurses, the climax of Murphy is a chess match between Mr Endon (a male schizophrenic patient) and Murphy (a male psychiatric nurse). The precise notation of the Endon v Murphy chess match tells us that the Beckett intended it to be an exemplar of an anti-match, perhaps a metaphor for the tragedy of being locked into madness. It is also argued that the match offers us insight into Beckett’s experience of the process of psychotherapy with Bion. Based on new information from Beckett’s nephew and Bion’s widow, hypotheses about the long term impact of the Bion-Beckett analysis are advanced as a mutual experience which shaped the lives and later literary output of both men, producing conjoined career writings which continue to offer us stark and sublime condensations of depression, psychosis, and the challenges of therapy and recovery.